Homesteaders in Decatur County topic of museum ‘brown bag’ talk

By Angie Baldelomar

A great part of the history of the United States involves the Homestead Act, which promoted settlement of the western half of the country.

Dick Carman, a museum board member, explained the history that led to the landmark federal law during a “Brown Bag and Learn Program” on Thursday at the Old Bohemian Hall at the Last Indian Raid Museum.

He talked about the different methods by which people could acquire land during the settlement era. At first, he said, parcels were awarded depending on rank as payment for military service. After that, the Land Ordinance of 1785 established guidelines on how to manage public lands of the 13 colonies. The Preemption Act allowed land sales up to 160 acres at $1.25 per acre.

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, which allowed people to file an application for 160 acres of land in exchange of building a home, making improvements and farming the land for five years. After that, they needed to find two neighbors to sign a “proof” document and present it to the government.

Other methods of land acquisition included the Timber Culture Act of 1873, which granted 160 additional acres in exchange for maintaining 40 acres of the land in trees for 10 years, the use of preemption rights and provision for school lands.

Fraud was a big problem during this period, Mr. Carman said. One of the most common methods was taking advantage of the fact that the structure built on homesteaded land had to be at least 12 by 16, but since the act did not specify feet or inches, some people built a small structure.

Mr. Carman also gave information on homestead applications filed in the Decatur County area, but only the part south of U.S. 36. He said he still is researching the area north of the highway.

In Decatur County, he said, homesteading started in 1873. Many of the claims were filed between 1878 and 1885, but a lot of them were abandoned by the later year. A lot of homesteaders were not farmers to begin with, he said, which added to the eventual abandonment of the the land.

After his presentation, Mr. Carman showed some township maps divided into land sections that were homesteaded and who the owners were. Some of the audience members knew of some of the people who filed homestead claims.


The story was published on page 3A of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on August 3, 2016.

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Construction project to lengthen main runway

By Angie Baldelomar

Construction on the extension of the south end of the main runway at the Oberlin Municipal Airport has been underway the last couple of weeks.

The project will add 800 feet to the south end of the main runway. Airport manager Britton Scott said this may be used for takeoff on either direction, giving pilots more room during the summer when heat limits lift, and for landing to the south only.

Right now, the runway length is 3,798 feet long, he said, but with the south end closed for construction only 2,922 feet are usable.

Mr. Scott said the runway originally was 4,300 feet before the city, acting on advice from the Federal Aviation Administration and from a former engineering firm, removed 600 feet on the south to create a safety zone for the highway and the fairground. That project added just 30 feet on the north, where a steep grade limits expansion. That contract, which involved removing all the pavement and replacing it with new asphalt, failed to remove the hump in the middle which limits visibility on the ground.

The new runway area won’t be available for landing from the south, Mr. Scott said, creating the required safety zone. This zone would be marked off with paint and touchdown bars located to the north of the restricted area.

Diane Hofer, project engineer from Olsson and Associates, said that the cost for the project is $818,000. A grant by the Federal Aviation Administration is paying for 90 percent of the cost, she said. This money comes from aviation fuel and ticket taxes, she said.

The city of Oberlin is paying for the other 10 percent, Mrs. Hofer said. She also said the project includes installing a new beacon, a rotating light that indicates the airport’s location to pilots at night.

The contractor for the project is Smoky Hills Heavy Contractors of Salina, with vice president Scott Erickson in charge.

Mr. Scott said the completion date is Sept 1, but that he thinks they will beat that.


The story was published on page 3A of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on August 3, 2016.

Groups hope to hire marketer

By Angie Baldelomar

The Oberlin Convention and Visitors Bureau board decided to partner with the Last Indian Raid Museum to hire a marketing manager during its meeting Thursday.

One of the biggest issues since the idea of hiring someone to develop and implement marketing initiatives for the city was brought up a couple of meetings ago was whether the person should work on an independent contract or on someone’s payroll.

After member Lisa Votapka went to the City Council to report on the board’s plans, City Attorney Steve Hirsch suggested not using the independent contractor route because the position did not offer specific duties.

The city does not have the space to have the person work at the city office, City Treasurer and bureau member Steve Zodrow said.

Bureau President Gary Anderson said he had gone to the Economic Development Corporation’s board to discuss whether that agency would put the marking person on its payroll system. However, board members were not sure if they would have time to supervise someone. One member, Mr. Anderson said, suggested the museum as an alternative.

He said he spoke with museum Director Sharleen Wurm, also treasurer of the bureau, and Dick Carman, museum treasurer, about the idea. They said they thought the museum could do that, but they would have to discuss it with the museum board first.

Mrs. Wurm said the museum has the space needed for the person to work there. Mr. Anderson said whoever they hire could work eight to 10 hours a week for the museum as a way of covering the rent. Mrs. Wurm agreed with the idea.

She said she would bring the issue to the next museum board meeting.

The bureau board members agreed this seemed to be the most viable choice. The museum would pay the person and the bureau would reimburse the museum, they agreed.

The board decided that if the museum board members accepted the idea in its meeting next Tuesday, they would start advertising the position.

In other business, the board:

•Heard Mr. Anderson report the bureau has received a $3,500 Dane Hansen Community Grant to pay for part of the television segment about Oberlin for the Smoky Hills Public Television show “Traveling Kansas.”

• Heard members report positive feedback on the state tourism seminar last month. Mrs. Wurm said it had gone well, and those who attended learned a lot, but that they needed the marketing person to put some ideas into effect.

• Heard Mrs. Votapka suggest board members get name tags to wear during activities.


The story was published on the front page of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on August 3, 2016.

Here an egg, there an egg, everywhere an egg

By Angie Baldelomar

As soon as the farm comes into view, you can see the chickens roaming free around the front of the house. On one of the hen houses, surrounded by a fence, the door hangs open.

Beaver Valley Poultry co-owner Whitney Witt said she lets the chickens roam free during the day. At her place, she said, she has around 1,400 chickens, and together with her mom, Kimberly, they have around 2,500 in their family business.

“I only realize there are that many,” she said, “at night when I close the buildings and in the morning when I let them go free.”

The chickens are calm around new people. A gate in the fence that surrounds their building in front of the house is open, so the birds can roam around the house during the day. The house and barns are surrounded by crops, which Ms. Witt said, is why they are put inside at night. Inside the fence, they have food, along with oyster shells, which as Ms. Witt explained, contain calcium that makes their egg shells hard.

The firm is licensed to sell eggs in Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska, she said. They deliver to the Nebraska Food Co-op in McCook, from where the free range, non-GMO eggs are shipped to other area states. In Kansas, they deliver to grocery stores and restaurants in Oberlin and to a co-op in Atwood, from where eggs are shipped to Colorado.

It all started because of Whitney, her mom recalls. She was the one who talked them into starting a chicken farm. Whitney said she had gone on a field trip with her mom’s second-grade class to a farm that supplied eggs commercially.

“We began fixing up old buildings we had on our farm,” she said, “to convert them into chicken houses, building nests and roosts.”

They pride themselves on the fact that their eggs are farm fresh, non-GMO, that is, they haven’t been fed any genetically modified grain.The hens are free to roam around the place and lay their eggs in the same hen house they go to at night. The Witts have a candler machine where they can spot any eggs that may be unfit to sell. Then they wash and process and package all of them on the farm each day.

When they need to get more chickens, she said, they use an incubator and then, once they have little chicks, they take some laying hens to be moms and put them with the chicks in a different pen.

The women said they don’t plan to increase the size of their flocks. It is already a time- consuming job for the family, they said, but they enjoy what they do, and from the passionate way they talk about the farm and the chicken flocks, there is no doubt they will continue to do that.


The story was published on page 1B of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on July 27, 2016.

Couple restores former day care

oh-july-27-p-9a oh-july-27-p-9a2By Angie Baldelomar

Richard and Brenda Rude returned to Oberlin in May. After three years of remodeling, they finally finished work on their house at 110 S. York Ave.

They received the house almost free from the city. It would have been more expensive for the city to tear it and a couple other houses down than to give them away, the Rudes were told.

“We just had to pay the back taxes, which were $58,” Mrs. Rude said, “and then $100 for a lawyer’s fee, and that’s it.”

The couple said they worked on the restoration on and off for three years.
“This place was a mess,” Mr. Rude said. “We did everything.”
They said they had to level the floor, which was sinking, put in new plumbing, then

clean the yard. One of the conditions of getting the house is that you have to clean up the yard and paint the outside of the house in the first year.

“We (hauled away) over 60 pickup-truck loads of branches,” Mr. Rude said.

Mrs. Rude said the house used to be a day-care center. A wall in the pantry still had the handprints and names of the little kids.

“We kept that as a history mark of the house,” she said.

They said retired contractor Wayne Goltl helped a lot in the remodeling. He hauled trash out in his truck, Mr. Rude said, and he also fixed the furnace.

Mr. Rude works part-time with Goltl Construction and also owns Sappa Valley Saw Mill on the former Elmer Zodrow property on West Commercial. He said he has built houses in the past and said he builds everything from dressers to entire houses. In his own house, he has built the television stand, kitchen cabinets, a dresser and nightstands.

“In fact, I built two brand new houses here in Oberlin years ago,” he said.
The Rudes said they lived in Oberlin from 1996 to 2003, when they moved to Denver. Many of the things Mr. Rude builds are sold through Craigslist and eBay, he said,

adding that they plan to participate in the U.S. 36 Treasure Hunt sale this fall. They hope to get the word out about his work, so that people can come to him with a project.

Mr. Rude said that he has gotten many things for free from his work remodeling houses. Instead of throwing them out, he took things he needed that could still work at home. He got the carpet and wood that are now part of his house from previous jobs, he said.

The couple said they plan to retire and settle in Oberlin for good now. “It’s peaceful and stress-free,” Mrs. Rude said. “We like it here.”


The story was published on page 9A of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on July 27, 2016.

City decides to put empty lots up for sale by bid

By Angie Baldelomar

The Oberlin City Council decided Thursday to put two of its properties for sale, vacant lots at 212 N Rodehaver and 706 E. Commercial. Bids will be accepted on both until Wednesday, Aug. 31, the council agreed.

The city has had the properties for some time, but the council decided that since to use either, the best option was to try to sell them. The city acquired both lots after it demolished fire-damaged houses.

City Treasurer Steve Zodrow said that someone had asked about buying the lot at 212 N. Rodehaver. No offer was made, he said, but the person expressed interest in it. One of the issues that came up was that, once they announce the bidding, the council needs to let people know about ordinances that might prevent a buyer from building on the properties.

The main issue, City Attorney Steve Hirsch said, was that whoever buys the lots would have to conform with the city zoning code. The lots are too small to build another house with a garage, he said, so people need to be aware of that when they think of bidding.

The members said that unless someone with adjacent property could use the lots for a garage, they would just be buying a lot. Another issue was the property tax a buyer would pay with two properties. Mr. Hirsch said that the taxes would be minimal, so that should not be a problem.

The council approved a motion to open the properties for bid until Aug. 31 on a 4-0 vote. Councilwoman Marilyn Horn was absent.

In other business, the council:

• Agreed to move the Aug. 4 meeting to Thursday, Aug. 11, so as not to not interfere with the county fair. In the Aug. 11 meeting, they will also have the budget hearing, since they need to publish the budget in the paper 10 days before the meeting.

• Approved an agreement with Glassman Corp. for maintenance of The Gateway’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning units, for a cost of $2,595 per year, with extra charges for unscheduled service or repairs.

• Approved an ordinance regarding city right of ways by utility companies, with an added section on granting a waiver of the permit, inspection and pavement-cut fees for companies with existing franchise agreements.


The story was published on page 8A of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on July 27, 2016.

Phone scam reported to police here

By Angie Baldelomar

Earlier this month, an Oberlin woman received a call from an unknown number.

Vickie Huntley said she did not pick up the phone, but the caller left a voicemail message. Fifteen minutes later, she received another call, and this time she did pick up.

Both the voicemail and the call had around the same message, she said: That there was a case for her arrest and she needed to call back to know more about it. The caller claimed to have a case number and said she should follow instructions to avoid being arrested. Both numbers had the 202 area code, used for numbers in Washington D.C.

Mrs. Huntley said she knew it was a scam but wanted to report it to help others know in case something similar happens to them.

Oberlin Police Chief Troy Haas said he’s had reports of similar scams in the past, but no one has reported falling for this scam.

“People need to be cautious and protect their information,” he said. “They have to be on alert, considering new scams appear every day.”

Mr. Haas also said people would be notified of official court or tax cases in writing, usually by letter, but never over the phone or by email.

A lot of scams sound alike, he said: the scammer tells you the IRS is filing a lawsuit against you, and that you need to pay your back taxes as soon as possible if you want to avoid going to jail.

Decatur County Sheriff Ken Badsky said this type of call happens all the time.

“IRS does not call,” he said. “Any unknown number from the East Coast usually is a scam, so people should not answer it.”

Sheriff Badsky said people should be careful with their personal information, and try not to send money to anyone through services like Western Union.

This is a nationwide problem that has increased in recent years as technology progresses, Chief Haas said. Remember to always be suspicious of these calls.

“People should take a few minutes to research if what they are being told is true or not,” he added.

If you receive a suspicious call and think it may be a scam, you can call the Oberlin police department at 475-2622, or call the sheriff’s office at 475-8100 to talk to an officer here in town.


The story was published on page 6A of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on July 27, 2016.

Council discusses budget, approves publication draft

By Angie Baldelomar

The Oberlin City Council discussed the proposed 2017 budget at a special meeting Monday and again during its regular meeting Thursday. They approved the budget for publication on the Thursday meeting.

The first drafts presented by City Treasurer Steve Zodrow suggested a 3 percent increase on franchise fees. However, council members said, with the possible hospital property-tax increase, that might be too much for Oberlin residents.

Mr. Zodrow said that the budget would only work if the city accepts the suggested increase and if the county helps with the airport.

Mr. Zodrow showed the council figures from other towns’ that are using a franchise fee to generate money for the general fund. Many towns use their utilities to get more revenue, he said.

Councilman Brandon Oien asked how long it had been since the city adjusted the electric rate, and Mr. Zodrow said that the city had lowered the rate from .1375 to .1355 cents per kilowatt-hour rate last year . This meant a revenue loss of $70,000, he said.

The members noted that that was the same amount they needed this year for the budget to work, especially with The Gateway building to maintain, so they started considering the option of bringing the electric rate up to last year’s level, which ultimately did not happen.

Councilman Josh Williby said that one of the future discussions should be about how to sustain The Gateway building. He posed the question of whether it was worth $70,000 to keep it open, especially with the budget getting tighter and tighter each year.

Councilman Jim Marchello suggested to look into whether it might be better to have electric power provided by a third party rather than by the city.

“We need to find a way to provide a cheaper service to the people,” he said, adding that he knows this won’t be possible to do for this year, but that it should be something to consider for later.

Mr. Oien reminded the others that the council still needs to hire a city administrator, which means they have to allocate a salary estimate in the budget for the position. Members agreed that taking money from the electric fund and moving it to the general fund was the best choice for now.

After a discussion, the council approved the publication of the budget without the 3 percent franchise fee increase and with the move of electric fund to the general fund.

The city has to publish the budget at least 10 days prior to the final budget hearing before the deadline on Aug. 15. This prompted the council to move the Aug. 4 meeting to Thursday, Aug. 11 to give time for the publication before the hearing.


The story was published on page 3A of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on July 27, 2016.

American Legion salutes the fallen

oh-july-20-p-1b oh-july-20-p-1b2 oh-july-20-p-1b3

By Angie Baldelomar

The American Legion ring team stood against the wall of the east side of the Oberlin Cemetery last Wednesday, waiting on a grieving family and friends coming from Norton.

As they waited, they planned the best place to position themselves near the burial site. A few flags were brought in. Half an hour later, the American Legion Riders’ Patriot Guard appeared on the highway, forming a military escort at the front of the caravan of cars.

Sid Metcalf, the “noncomissioned officer” in charge of the rifle party, said a set protocol governs how to do funerals. They usually do a rifle salute and present the flag from the casket to the family. They don’t do more complicated services, he said, mainly because they would need more people.

The American Legion was founded in 1919, after receiving authorization from Congress, as a patriotic veterans organization. It evolved from a group of World War I veterans to an influential nonprofit group in the United States. Today, it is one of the largest veteran organizations in the country.

Legion member Jim Miesner said that the Oberlin Post started in 1920. As part of military funeral services, the Legion Riders escort the family to the graveside, he said.

On Wednesday, the riders came up one by one while the people sitting behind them held flags. They lined up next to the few flag holders. Family and friends descended from vehicles and gathered around the grave.

The squad, lined up and holding their rifles waiting on the riders and family, got into position to re a three-volley salute at the order of Mr. Metcalf. After the salute, the bugler played Taps, also known as “Butterfield’s Lullaby” for a Civil War general who arranged the music, a traditional call performed in military and police funerals as well as during flag ceremonies.


The pictures and story were published on page 1B of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on July 20, 2016.

AT&T customers go offline for a day

By Angie Baldelomar

Many Oberlin businesses and households, mostly AT&T customers, suffered an Internet outage Thursday which lasted until late Friday morning.

One of the businesses affected was Raye’s Grocery. Manager Mory Zodrow said it caused a bit of a havoc. Credit and debit cards which require an identification number could not be used, he said, including rewards cards and loyalty numbers. The store could not communicate with its warehouse, he said, since that is all done through a computer system.

“It has happened before, but not for that long,” he said. “Usually, after a couple of hours at most, the service is restored, never for a whole day.”

Subway up at the intersection of U.S. 36 and U.S. 83 was another business affected. The restaurant was not able to accept anything but cash as payment until the connection was restored around 11 a.m. Friday, said manager Shanna Long.

The Bank experienced some issues, and employees were basically unable to perform many activities since everything required an Internet connection.

Economic Development Director Shayla Williby said her office did not have any issues because it uses Nex-Tech as an Internet provider, but that the connection was out in her house, where she uses AT&T. She said this is the third time that has happened in two months.

Public buildings like the courthouse, The Gateway, the county hospital and the city library, among others, all use Nex-Tech, and therefore, were not affected by the outage.

The causes of the outage was unknown. The company would only say it was a “network outage,” which usually means a cut cable.


The story was published on page 6A of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on July 20, 2016.